Thursday, July 20, 2006

My challenging, fulfilling, stimulating, and enriching summer internship

It occurs to me that I have really failed to explain my internship up to now so you can't really understand my posts, and I'd like to try to rectify this oversight as much as possible. I am interning for a first-rate think tank in DC. This think tank has a paid staff of about 20 or so researchers, and 72 summer interns, all unpaid. (When the CEO learned of this, his comment was only, "I don't think I authorized that.") I, however, am paid through an excellent program at the U of C designed to put undergraduates in challenging, substantial positions, on the condition that I work 800 hours, get subjected to a "site visit" by a career office staff member, and dedicate my soul to the program that is funding me hereafter. So there are 72 interns, about 40 of whom are working for one researcher, who happens also to be the intern coordinator. It is an odd coincidence. The other researchers were each given a leftover intern or two for their personal uses.

Now, you may wonder what one researcher needs 40 unpaid interns for. Well, you see, the problem with interns is that, individually, they may not catch all the errors in your articles and papers. So it is clearly more efficient to assign 40 people to edit each one, thereby ensuring the highest possible rate of error detection. And indeed, this is what the 40 foreign policy interns do each day. "Imagine having such resources at your disposal," I told Julia today while being very productive on Gmail chat. "Imagine being that huge of a bastard," she responded. I think Julia is being a little judgmental.

However, sometimes it happens that 40 interns are insufficient, and some of the editing work needs to be outsourced to the other 32 interns not working for the intern coordinator, like me. In these cases, an intern will be asked to transcribe a conference, which will then be passed on to another intern to summarize, and then the summary will be outsourced (to me) for editing. These conferences are typically of groundbreaking importance to American foreign policy, and have far-reaching impact on the US government and beyond. So it makes sense that one might want to go to such a degree of effort to capture the essence of these events. So, today, I received a summary to edit of a high-profile event, attended by top Administration officials, about whether President Bush is a lot, a little, or not at all like Harry Truman.

Since I rarely have much to do for my boss, who is a research assistant to a researcher (see, because the work being done here is so important and demanding that even the assistants need assistants), I began to work on editing this summary. Unfortunately, about two paragraphs into it, I was so overwhelmed by the quality of the writing that I could no longer go on. Its brilliance was almost blinding. "Second, Truman and Truman diverge Bush in Truman's belief in international institutions." I must also, with great pride, point out that this masterpiece was written by a U of C student.

I am very honored to be employed by this highly selective and prestigious institution, and I can only hope that others out there will decide to pack up and come to Washington for such enriching, unpaid summer internships in the future. I am only sorry that I have but two more weeks to spend at this fine institution.

ADDENDUM: I was just having lunch in the kitchen when the above-mentioned intern coordinator approached me and asked me about the above-mentioned transcript summary. Thus went our conversation:
Intern coordinator: Did you have a chance to look over --'s summary?
Me: Yes, but I'd need the original transcript to make sense of it.
IC: So you couldn't tell if it was good or bad?
Me: No, I could definitely tell. I sent it back to him to edit.
IC: Oh. Well, he showed it to another intern, and she didn't like it. So I told him to get the best editor out of the interns to edit it.
Me: Uh huh. I sent it back to him.
IC: He says you are brilliant and have an amazing GPA and stuff. We have another intern here who's an undergraduate at Harvard. Do you know her?
Me: No.
IC: Well, she's at Harvard and she's also brilliant. She just cleaned out our kitchen!
Me: That seems like a good use of her Harvard education.
IC: Yes, see, she put these labels on all our cabinets. [points to labels] You should talk to her. She has a GPA too!